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Are campground early check-in fees a new trend? It seems so…

A week ago we received a note from a reader questioning the use of early check-in fees at campgrounds. The RVer said he had been charged $25 for checking in two hours early to his reserved site. “In my eight years of RVing, this has never happened to us,” they wrote.

While “flipping” a campsite involves much less work than preparing a hotel room for the next guest, there are a few tasks to attend to each day between arrivals and departures. Grass gets mowed and watered, fire pits are cleaned, connections are checked, and trash cans are emptied. Along with the above tasks, campground staff also gets pulled away to clean pools and prepare cabins and other accommodations.

Add in the sudden infusion of millions more campers, many wanting to arrive “a few hours early,” and you have the beginnings of a severe bottleneck in campers coming and going.

I decided to ask a few campground owners about early check-in fees, along with how and why they are used. I’m not going to list the names of the campgrounds I contacted. Sometimes you get much more honest responses when you guarantee anonymity. But rest assured, the responses are from real owners and managers.

Here’s what I was told:

“We strictly enforce the ‘no check-in early’ policy on the phone, via email inquiries, and upon arrival. If a guest arrives early, we explain that our maintenance times are between 11-1 for RV and tent sites and 11-2 for all cabins. If their site is ready, we will let the guest in for a $20 early check-in fee. We see about 2-3 of those a week. It may look like there are plenty of sites available in the morning, but those are all likely reserved.”


“I charge $25 for early check-ins. If we’ve got a ton of arrivals, I’ll waive the early check-in fee in order to clear the registration area and keep traffic moving.”


“Early check-ins have always been bad, but this year they are much worse. I had one recently show up for a tent site at 7:58 a.m. when check-in is 1 p.m. I used to charge $10, but that isn’t nearly enough to discourage the practice. It seems, among owners, that the charge is all over the board. Some charge much more than $10, and some just let them come on in and that ruins having a policy for the rest of us.”


“Some campers start rolling in at 10 a.m., well before the current campers are even gone. I don’t charge for early arrivals because I don’t want my parking lot backed up for hours with those who won’t pay and just hang around. Sometimes on a Friday, we can have 160 check-ins to process, and I can’t schedule enough staff early to handle those earlier check-in hours.”


“We don’t currently charge anything for early arrivals. If there is a site available, we let them in early. If there isn’t a site, they have to wait.”


What do you think? Have you encountered an early check-in fee on any of your campground stays? If so, please tell us about it in the comments below. Thanks!

##RVT1008

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Linda Stumpf
17 days ago

We have a real problem with the 2:00 & 3:00 check-ins. We encountered this many times as we are full timers. We try to plan on arriving when they want but sometimes traffic is great and you get there early. We are avoiding all RV parks with this ridiculous practice – if their check out is 11:00 there should be NO problem checking the site by 1:00. We’ve noticed all they do is drive thru on their golf carts and leave because there is usually NOTHING to clean – it’s NOT a hotel room where you physically change beds, clean bathrooms etc.! These campgrounds that charge $25.00 because you arrive at 2:30 instead of 3:00 are just greedy. Raise your rates if you want more money!

David Allen
3 months ago

If the policy is posted, it should be expected by the campers. I see the park owner’s side of it. I plan my travel accordingly. I have been late a lot but never try to arrive early. If I do arrive before check in time, I typically stop and eat if there is some place that can accommodate our rig, and if not, I pay the fee if it is charged. Seems to me people should be able to read the policy and be ready to deal with it.

Glenn
3 months ago

I was traveling with my son and his handicapped wife. We were 55 minutes early at Adventure Bound campground and were charged $30.00 for early arrival. I thought this was way overboard. Will not use this campground again.

Wayne Braxton
3 months ago

I always ask about early arrival. I once forgot to ask about pet fees and it cost me dearly over a 10 day stay with three pets. If you ask about early arrival and they say no it is not hard to plan an acceptable schedule for arrival.

Bob
3 months ago

We usually call the day before & see if our site is being used by someone else that night. If it is not we politely if we can come in an hour or 2 early. We have never been asked to pay for that extra time.

Charlie Parsons
3 months ago

One time at a KOA. We were 5 miles from the time zone and did not realize we were early. 15$ extra , but that one is OFF my list for future travel.

Ron
3 months ago

We have never been charged an early arrival fee, but have been asked to wait a little while a couple of times. What gets me is the people who over stay their sites from 30 min to a couple of hrs. We had to wait 2 hrs at a TX SP site passed the ck in time of 2pm. Ck out was noon, & SP did nothing to clear the site. If we want to stay later on our departure day, we book for the next day, then we can leave anytime the day before.

David Ridgeway
3 months ago

We are campground owners and have considered adding this fee although we don’t currently have it. I’m surprised at many of the comments that other parks don’t mow or clean up between campers as we budget a lot of time, energy and manpower to make sure every site is ready for the next guest. It has been a rough year to find employees so maybe that is impacting these parks? It certainly complicates our process when RVs show up hours early and want to set up. It does also cost money in utility costs and redirecting staff from other duties to rush site prep. Also the logjam It creates is annoying to guests trying to depart. Not sure we will charge anything this year but we are considering it for next year, not as a money maker but mainly to manage the process better. Good discussion though and appreciate this forum for bringing up topics like this so we can strive to improve the camping experience.

Linda Petersen
3 months ago

We stopped over for 2 nights ( Thurs & Fri) at Misty Mtn. Resort in West Virginia. Apparently popular ATV weekenders destination. ( They were everywhere).

We had the office staff calling my cell phone the morning of our departure, multiple times and wanting us to vacate our site early ( 2 hours) before checkout because the next campers had arrived early and we’re blocking their entrance! (uh why is this now our problem) Ridiculous!

One call to us and we would have congenially done our best to pack up and leave a bit early. But repeatedly calling ? We made sure not to leave one minute before checkout time. They even stationed a staff member sitting in their golf cart by our site watching like a vulture for us to leave.

Although we really liked the campground – we have never stayed here again. Never will.

Drew
3 months ago
Reply to  Linda Petersen

Wow, never heard that before. I would think it takes real nerve and no conscience. Would you mind naming the place?

Alan
3 months ago

As a park owner, it’s frustrating when campers arrive @930am with no phone call and expect to be let in. All campgrounds are extremely busy and we are happy to accommodate but stopping in 3-4 hours before check in without any notice is pretty crazy. I suggest to call ahead before showing up.

Bob
3 months ago

I have never been charged but don’t arrive early because I have hosted at a park and realize they need some time to prep the sites. I think people who arrive more than a few minutes early deserve to be charged a reasonable fee or made to wait. People need to follow the rules and be good campers!!!!

Jim Prideaux
3 months ago

We only had an early check in situation once. No early fee but we were among a half dozen rigs waiting in the parking lot until 2 pm. Usually not a problem for us as travel time puts us at our destination in the late afternoon at the earliest.

Douglas T Johnson
3 months ago

They are making it cheaper to stay at a hotel.

Drew
3 months ago

With your rv?

Danny B
3 months ago

Couple of campgrounds have charged early check in and $25.00 to guarantee you get the site you choose when you booked the site.

Terry M
3 months ago
Reply to  Danny B

Yep, the extra fee to lock in your reserved site is the one that really irritates me.

FRED CROWLEY
3 months ago

We are full-time RV travelers, and over the past 7 years have stayed in 1300+ RV parks. Almost exclusively, check in is at 1pm, but there are exceptions. As far as “site prep”, at best the gravel site has been raked. This means diddly-squat once you’ve maneuvered your rig into the site. Not once have we seen grass cut between check-out and check-in, Grass is cut whenever management wants to do it. If the previous site occupants leave trash in the fire pit or around the site, obviously that can be a real pain for management, It does have to be cleaned up. Our opinion, at check-in, warn folks to clean-up before leaving. If not, charge for the clean-up. We’re a bit old fashioned but our parents taught us to leave a “camp site” cleaner than we found it. Unfortunately, this seems to be considered an outmoded form of courtesy! We were in an RV park in Utah a few days ago. Check-in was at 2pm, with a $25 penalty for check any time before 2 pm. 8-9 rigs all checked in at 2pm exactly! Chaos!

Donald Chamberlain
3 months ago

Several campgrounds recently had the policy regarding early check in. These campgrounds nods not cut the grass or pick up the site I came to after the checkin time so I question whether it’s just a way to make more money. There were cigaret bits throughout the site and trash in the fire ring

Corette
3 months ago

I am a early riser and like to hit the road before summer heat. I have been aware of early arrival fees for years! It’s not new! I try not to arrive before 11 am (standard check out time for RV/trailer sites) and I always offer at check in to pay for my early arrival. I’d say 65 to 75% of the time I am not charged.

Paul S Goldberg
3 months ago

Dockweiler RV Park in Los Angeles (actually El Segundo) is a city run park that has had an early check in fee for many years. It is clearly listed on the website and on the arrival email. It used to be $25 but that was more than 5 years ago when I stopped going there for other reasons. I didn’t pay it, just waited. We had arrived 30 minutes early due to a fluke in LA traffic, who would ever expect to catch light traffic near LAX.

Rosy
3 months ago

Very interesting. In six years we have observed ONLY ONE campground perform site maintenance between campers. That was at a COE campground in Demopolis, AL. As for State Park campground employees, how many guys does it take to watch grass grow! For all those corporate owned or smaller independently owned campgrounds, we haven’t found one yet that actually lived up to all their on line hype. Maybe we just expect too much for the daily fee but I don’t think so. Adding an early check in fee is ridiculous unless the campground wants to provide a refund for an early check out!

Irv
3 months ago
Reply to  Rosy

Yep! I’ve never seen site maintenance between campers. (I have seen grass mowed during our stay.)

Dennis G
3 months ago

We were allowed a 30 minute early check-in in the Tetons. Was very happy as I was getting sick, and needed the rest. Slept from noon to the next morning almost straight through.